Supreme Court rejects D.C. residents’ claim they deserve voting representation in the House

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed a lower federal court ruling denying the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives.

The justices affirmed in summary fashion the lower court’s ruling against Washington residents who sued for representation.

“The case is Castanon v. United States, and in today’s order list, SCOTUS summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision that rejected D.C. residents’ claims that they are entitled to voting representation in the House,” said a tweeted announcement from the high court.

Eleven Washington, D.C., residents noted in a “novel legal theory,” USA Today reported, “to the perennial question of representation” for those living in the nation’s capital, “arguing in part that the Constitution already gives Congress the power to grant voting representation in the House.”

“Residents of the District of Columbia are the only adult American citizens subject to federal income taxes who lack voting representation in Congress, except for felons in some states,” plaintiffs claimed in a brief before the high court earlier this year, the paper reported.

Last year, a three-judge appeals panel rejected the argument after citing a previous, similar case from 2000 when a federal court cited a provision in the Constitution that says members of the House must be chosen “by the people of the several states,” and because Washington, D.C., is a federal district and not a state, there can be no elected representative to Congress. And at the time, the Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

In Monday’s case, plaintiffs cited times when voters were allowed to cast ballots though they did not live in a state at the time, including members of the military stationed overseas. However, in a footnote, the lower court said that making references to military members voting was not relevant to the core claim at issue.

The case comes amid continuing efforts by Democrats to make the District a state, which has been ongoing for decades. Republicans have bitterly opposed the idea on constitutional grounds, arguing that the nation’s founding document directs that the nation’s capital be carved out of existing states and cannot become one itself. The district is also placed under the jurisdiction of Congress, though over the years it has been given increasing autonomy.

Last year, however, was the first time a bill to make D.C. a state cleared either chamber of Congress. The district is represented in Congress by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton but she is a nonvoting member.

The District’s shadow senator, Paul Strauss, made a familiar argument when stumping for statehood last fall.

“You have 200 years after the American Revolution, taxation without representation,” he said.

Others disagree, however.

“Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom or fairness of the framers’ plan, but the only way to change it is to amend the Constitution,” columnist and attorney Jeff Jacoby wrote last year as Democrats in the House passed legislation calling on statehood for D.C. “Washington, D.C.’s one-of-a-kind standing in the federal system is spelled out in the Constitution; the only way to modify that standing is to modify the Constitution.”

Jon Dougherty


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